Three days after a recording surfaced of Sterling urging his girlfriend not to publicly associate with blacks, NBA commissioner Adam Silver removed the 80-year-old billionaire from the league and urged owners to start the process of forcing him to sell the team.
The surprisingly tough sanctions earned quick praise from across the sport, with current and former stars lauding Silver’s decisive action.
“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” Silver told a news conference in New York. “That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage.”
The punishment following a lightning-fast probe into the controversy means Sterling cannot attend any NBA games or workouts, appear at any Clippers office or facility, or make any business or personnel decisions for the club.
He was also fined $2.5 million and is banned from all league activity.
Silver said he will urge the NBA owners to exercise their authority to force Sterling to sell the team, which is valued by Forbes magazine at $575 million — much more than the $12 million Sterling paid for the franchise in 1981.
“I fully expect to get the support I need from fellow NBA owners to remove him,” Silver said, adding that he would do “everything” in his power to ensure that happens.
A three-quarters vote of NBA owners is needed to strip a team from an owner, but simply starting the process as Silver has done could be enough to prod Sterling to sell the club and avoid a lengthy court fight or the risk of not having the Clippers to sell for a huge profit.
“I spoke to several owners and I have their full support,” Silver said.
Silver, who described himself as distraught at the comments, apologized to NBA coaches, players, fans and business partners, adding, “This has been a painful moment for all members of the NBA family.”
– Quick praise for Sterling ban –
Reaction was swift and strongly in support of Silver.
“We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver today. Now the healing process begins,” the Clippers said in a statement.
The front page of the Clippers was changed to a black screen with a team logo and white lettering saying, “WE ARE ONE.”
NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, whose photo with Sterling’s girlfriend prompted the tirade that led to the owner’s banishment, is among those thought to be interested in buying the Clippers.
“Former and current NBA players are very happy and satisfied with Commissioner Silver’s ruling,” Johnson tweeted.
“Current and former NBA players now know that in Commissioner Adam Silver we have a great leader leading our league.”
Kevin Johnson, who was acting for the players union in place of Clippers player and union president Chris Paul, said it was a defining moment in NBA history.
“I believe that today stands as one of those great moments where sports, once again, transcends, where sports provides a place for fundamental change on how our country should think and act,” Johnson said.
“This is also a statement about where we are as a country. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional basketball player worth millions of dollars or a man or woman who works hard for their family — there will be zero tolerance for institutional racism, no matter how rich or powerful.”
Silver’s few critics wondered about how Sterling was tolerated so long as an owner, given past court cases against him over questions of race, but Silver noted that in each instance, Sterling won the legal fight against his detractors.
“When specific evidence was brought to the NBA, we acted,” Silver said. “Whether or not these views were shared in private, they are now public and they represent his views.
“We did not take into account his past behavior. When the board ultimately considers his overall fitness to be an owner in the NBA, they will take into account a lifetime of behavior.”
– Clippers due on court –
The announcement came only hours before the Clippers were set to play their first home game since the controversy erupted — Game 5 of their first-round playoff series with the Golden State Warrior, which is level at 2-2.
“My message to the Clippers’ fans is that the league is far bigger than any one owner,” Silver said. “The players deserve their support. They have just been through an incredibly difficult incident.”
Silver also asked the numerous sponsors who severed ties with the Clippers or suspended endorsement deals on Monday to “judge us by our response to this incident. I think we’ve responded appropriately.
“I’m hopeful there will be no long-term damage to the league or the Clippers. But I’m outraged so I certainly understand other people’s outrage. It will take some time and appropriate healing will be necessary.”